SC Human Trafficking Task Force receiving state funds for 1st time
CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - For the first time in the 10 years since the task force designed to prevent and prosecute human trafficking was formed, the state’s General Assembly approved adding funding for it from the state’s budget.
A recurring financial appropriation will provide $1.7 million per year for the South Carolina Human Trafficking Task Force.
“The $1.7 million is a game changer for those in the anti-human trafficking movement in South Carolina,” task force Director Kathryn Moorehead says.
Human Trafficking is defined as:
- Sex trafficking in which a commercial sex act is induced by force, fraud, or coercion, or in which the person induced to perform such an act has not attained 18 years of age; or
- The recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for labor or services, through the use of force, fraud, or coercion for the purpose of subjection to involuntary servitude, peonage, debt bondage, or slavery (USDOS, 2019).
Moorehead says the funds will be used to hire more staff to prevent, respond to, and prosecute the crimes in the state.
“The money will include the ability to hire education coordinators that will be focused on prevention education across the state that’ll be free to schools, mainstream schools and youth-serving groups,” Moorehead says. “We’ll also be hiring program coordinators that will be responsible for an area of the state.”
Moorehead says they have broken the state up into four areas as part of their strategic response model: the Upstate, Midlands, Lowcountry and Pee Dee.
“Across the nation there’s not a lot of data in terms of assessing the exact level of trafficking; how many victims, how many perpetrators are being prosecuted in our courts? One of the positions we’ll be able to hire is a data and research analyst so they’ll be able to develop a more comprehensive data collection system,” Moorehead says. “We’ll work with health care, with law enforcement, with child welfare systems and other stakeholders to be able to assess the number of trafficking victims in South Carolina.”
The task force receives data from the Department of Social Services which showed 236 children were trafficked last year that received services from DSS. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg, Moorehead says.
“We don’t know how many victims are coming into hospitals, for example, that don’t want law enforcement involved,” Moorehead says. “How many are being reported directly to law enforcement? How many are being prosecuted in different solicitors’ offices or in federal cases?”
One organization that works with victims in South Carolina is Doors to Freedom. Their whole purpose is to provide a safe place for survivors of sex trafficking to experience a transformed life.
“There’s complex of trauma that we’re having to deal with because what’s made them vulnerable is the trauma that they’ve experienced as young children and so being able to identify as a trafficking survivor is very difficult for them because there has been psychological manipulation to where they believe that they participated,” Doors to Freedom Executive Director Sharon Rikard says. “When you’re 12 and you have an older gentleman selling you for sex, you’re not participating. You have been psychologically manipulated.”
Both Rikard and Moorehead agree there has been an increase in children being trafficked in South Carolina.
“I was reading a statistic that in January of last year we saw a 50% increase,” Rikard says. “So yes, we are seeing more and more kids. And it’s simply because our state as a whole is becoming more educated about trafficking.”
“The last few years, the National Human Trafficking Hotline data has shown that Charleston has been in the top five for reported cases,” Moorehead says. “I do think that there are many factors that come into play - the ports, tourism, larger events that may occur. So that is a reality. It is identified as one of the most reported counties for cases, but we also have a very strong Regional task force down here who’s busy educating the public and you know, helping to identify and respond to the crime.”
Moorehead says they are also seeing traffickers getting smarter: they’re advertising less on mainstream websites and moving to social media.
“They’re able to basically sell their product - being the human, the person that’s being trafficked - through these social media sites instead of going through online platforms where law enforcement can witness it,” Moorehead says. “They may be chatting on Messenger or on WhatsApp and that becomes very difficult because it’s not out in the obvious for people to see and report.”
Moorehead adds that parents should pay attention because young people don’t always understand that they can be targeted and groomed online.
“One of our big focuses for this year is family engagement,” Rikard says. “We are seeing that it is so important for the family to be engaged to understand one what happened to their daughter, how this is affected their daughter and how it is affected their family. We need social workers that will give the support that these families need while we give the support to their child and then helping the two of them really navigate her healing journey, but the family’s healing journey is also so important.”
Here is a full breakdown of how the funding will be used with the Task Force, according to South Carolina Attorney General’s Office spokesman Robert Kittle:
- Three positions will be delegated to special victims prosecution (prosecutor, victim advocate, and paralegal). These are complex cases that take more time and we are starting to see an increase in the number of cases.
- IT specialist to address the task force’s IT needs (development of a data collection system, online training hub, and apps for direct services).
- An administrative assistant to assist with HR and finances.
- The other nine will be developed to allow the task force to implement the next stages of the strategic response model.
- Program manager (help oversee the expansion of all VAWA/HT-related programming including the state task force efforts)
- Education coordinator (lead prevention education in schools and youth-serving programs statewide)
- Four program coordinators (responsible for the four strategic plan areas/regional task forces within those areas as well as supporting sector-specific initiatives at the state level, facilitating professional training, and assisting with prevention education).
- Program assistant (focused heavily on social media, task force newsletter, supporting sector-specific training, producing a new podcast)
- Research and Data Analyst (Develop and maintain a comprehensive data collection system and secure multi-agency buy-in, research on best and emerging practices, and work with partner organizations who collect data regionally and nationally)
- Graphic designer (support prevention education, develop public awareness materials, social media images, items for the mandated annual report).
The remaining funds will be used for training, outreach/prevention education in schools, various office and technology needs, and travel to provide outreach and prevention education across the state.
When it comes to what people in the community can do, Moorehead says putting the Human Trafficking Hotline Number in your phone is critical: 1-888-373-7888 or you can text 233733 (BeFree).
The task force’s website lists additional resources including upcoming training sessions.
Copyright 2022 WCSC. All rights reserved.